The Muse: My Lungs Are Trying to Kill Me

So, it’s C. You might have noticed I’m posting not in my week. This is because last week was spent trying to keep my lungs inside my chest and also trying to figure out what was causing me to cough so much (I did not have a cold, so of course my brain decided I obviously had terrible lung cancer and am doing to die next week). I think I might have damaged my throat screaming obscenities about Donald Trump and that, combined with my increasing sensitivity to dust, caused the cough. And now that I’ve figured it out, I plan to spend the week… basically not talking.

Anyway. Hi! Today, I want to talk to you about literally anything but politics. Problem is, I literally can’t get my brain out of the spiral place it’s in, so finding something to write about has been difficult. That’s probably another reason why I skipped writing last week; I just couldn’t muster the energy to write anything that wouldn’t sound like a depressive liturgy of human suffering. So… this week, I am going to be studiously positive and tell you about things.

There are times that writing is a huge struggle for me. I very much dislike the act of drafting, sitting alone in a room (even if there are other people, you always draft alone) typing out letters that become words that become phrases, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, novels… Thousands of words. Tens of thousands. In my world, SFF, often hundreds of thousands of words. And while I love putting together a good phrase or interacting with my characters, drafting is often a struggle. I have a hard time coming up with the words I want, so I end up having to put down the words that come to mind, which if you know anything about me, you know… is not a good thing. I have an obsessive mind, so not finding the word I want is a very difficult thing for me to ignore. When I force myself to do it for the aforementioned hundreds of thousands of words, it becomes an extremely intrusive compulsion to go back and fix a novel that has completely gone off the rails. A compulsion that gets worse the more I force myself to ignore it and move on (and is only occasionally mollified with a quick re-read of an earlier chapter to remind myself that I’m pretty decent at what I do).

So, for what might be obvious reasons, I go through a lot of periods where I just cannot write. I joke that, for every good week (where I work on all three of my active WIPs), I spend three recovering. It’s a difficult cycle to break because I often do need to forget what I wrote in order to move on. Or, at least, let the “I’ve written this all wrong” feelings die down. But I’ve always looked at it in a positive way. When I do manage to write, all those words are really special to me. And I write a lot (for me) during that week: about 4000 words split between my three WIPs. It does mean my projects move slowly, but eventually, they get to where I want them to be.

And–finally–Liar is just about done. I have reached the final battle, the climactic showdown between Lucky and Odin and its inevitable aftermath. I am no more than 15k words away, and that’s probably an overestimation. And feeling like I’m almost to the point of writing I actually like–editing–has helped me write more quickly. I can’t ignore the feeling that I’ve ruined everything, but at least I know all the threads are coming together and, as soon as I’m done, I can go back to fix everything. Do the thing I’ve wanted to do since halfway through chapter seven.

It’s a great feeling. And I’m holding on to it because, frankly, I am in desperate need of positive feelings.

C

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The Muse: Why Was It Published?

Hi friends! Welcome to the latest Muse. Today’s topic: books. More specifically: shitty books.

Yup, they’re out there, sitting in your local Barnes & Noble next to great works of literature and bearing cool sleeve designs to entice hapless young readers into the world of poorly conceived prose. Shelves of drivel, half-assed attempts at wit, “purple” writing, endless adjective laundry lists… Need I go on?

There are a staggering number of unreadable books that have somehow been published. That being said, if like to ask a few questions…

Why? How? Really!?!

Now, I know you’re probably thinking, ‘A, literature is subjective. Everyone has different tastes.’

I mean, yes, but editors and agents (who work with books and language for a living!!) should know better than to sign off on shoddy work. They should know!!!

Regardless of what “the market” dictates, agents and editors are tasked with finding good material and, more and more frequently, the books I pick up are sorely lacking in quality, depth, and style.

It makes me sad.

What’s worse, it makes me feel that I’m somehow wrong in my own pursuit of writing. I’m made to feel that I’ll never get published if I don’t adopt an 8th grade vocabulary so as not to intimidate my readers.

Horse hockey!

So, here’s what this whole rant boils down to: I’m a writer. I have written a book (with C, obviously), and I know that our book contains significantly better writing (not to mention plot and character development) than the stinker I just picked up and put back down. Now. Would someone please put me in touch with these easy-to-please agents???

Much thanks.

Love,

A

The Muse: Realizations

Hey, guys! Welcome to this week’s Muse! In case you’d forgotten, or didn’t read the first time I announced this, the Muse is still once a week, but it’s been divorced from Monday. Now it’ll happen whenever we darn well feel like writing one.

So, you know how we’ve been shopping Killing Mercutio around? That novel we wrote that’s a retelling of Romeo and Juliet to get rid of that silly ‘romance’ and keep Mercutio, aka the cool one, alive? Yes, that one. I’m fond of it. I mean, I should be… I wrote half of it, so it would be weird if I didn’t.

Anyway, there’s a character who dies. Well, there’s several. But there’s one in particular I’m talking about.

SPOILERS.

 

 

So. I had to, as in the play, kill Tybalt. He doesn’t die the same way that he does in the play, but he dies. And writing that chapter actually caused me to go on a spiral for about a week. It’s one of the first and only times writing something has had that kind of effect on me, because I’m really good at compartmentalizing and keeping it at bay. And because that happened, I did something I have never done before.

I wrote fan-fiction for my own novel. And, in this story, I brought Tybalt back to life. He still died in Killing Mercutio, making the story a sequel. In order to do that, of course, I had to find a way to make it make sense because what the fuck is the point of writing something if it doesn’t make sense within the context of the world?! (*cough*) So, in order to bring him back, I got the Faery Courts involved. Oberon decided he wanted Tybalt to join his court and dispatched Puck to rouse him using one of those flowers Shakespeare’s always banging on about. The original story (there are a couple now, which I may very well post one day) is about Tybalt seeking out a rival to get his revenge on the person who killed him. But later stories are about his partnership with Puck and all the stuff they do for Oberon (having Walter Raleigh executed/assassinated for insulting the Sea King, rescuing Ariel so Oberon has one on Titania, etc).

OK, C, you might be saying. This is all interesting, and I definitely want to read those some day (aww, thanks), but what does this have to do about realizations? Ah, don’t worry. I’m getting there.

See, the thing is that Tybalt and Puck have a very specific relationship. Puck is a trickster and Tybalt is forced to learn to control his temper and clean up Puck’s messes, making him the straight man. Tybalt is a really, really good man, an honorable man, and really lovable (HE IS), but his tendency to think with his sword is what got him killed, so he has to learn to, well, temper his temper. And, really, this is the way I’ve been thinking of this partnership the entire time: Puck may be a trickster, but he isn’t a fool. A lot of their early relationship is Puck helping Tybalt to grow, so some of his behavior is intentional, even if ridiculous. But once all that settles, they’re the long-suffering straight man stuck dealing with the fallout of the ridiculous partner who is nonetheless his best friend.

In other words, I took Lucky and Rig… and put them in Shakespeare. Rig has way more patience and has more of a sense of humor than Tybalt, but Puck and Lucky are both tricksters, though Lucky was just reborn as a human so, in that respect, Tybalt and Lucky share a similar dynamic. But, anyway… it’s interesting to me that that dynamic has followed me through multiple stories (Benvolio and Romeo have some of it, too). It’s definitely a thing that’s part of my writing style.

So… that’s a thing. It’s just an interesting observation. In fact, Earth Rising is one of the only stories I have without much of a Lucky/Rig dynamic. The main pair in that, Mia and Laras, are both serious and capable and not ridiculous at all. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you which one came first… I think the dynamic of each pair grew at about the same time. I was developing Liar at the same time I was writing these short stories.

I choose to believe Lucky and Rig are just that strong.

C

Boozy Books: Actually… a Podcast!

Heyo, and welcome to the first edition of Boozy Books after the hiatus! I promised we’d have one for you on a monthly basis, but given that was two weeks ago, we’re not quite ready to move forward with the in-depth, well-thought-out pairings that we promised with the monthly version. A has a great book ready for you next month (she told me so, and I believe her), but since I didn’t want to be a liar literally two weeks after promising something…

I’m pairing a podcast.

It’s an old podcast. In fact, it’s been done and dusted for years now. And it’s one I’ve listened to a number of times, both because I find the subject endlessly fascinating and because the host’s voice is really damn soothing. I recently returned to listen to it again because I’m worldbuilding a second-world Roman Empire corollary (well, no… I have the world built; I’m listening to it again for clues in how to write the newly-created second half of the story since my stupid brain decided to give the Devil his due. And that is, in story, a very literal description. Like… literal literal. Not figurative literal. Which, frankly, is… *cough* Stay on point, C) and I just really really like the Battle of Cannae. Like enough that, when I watched the GoT episode “Battle of the Bastards”, I almost injured my boyfriend by being so excited. (For the record, I’d called that it was going to be a sort-of reverse Battle of Bosworth Field, with Jon fighting a la Richard III but being rescued in the end a la Henry VII. I’m still proud of myself for that, even if it was obvious. I take my joy where I can get it these days.)

Anyway. It’s the History of Rome podcast, which ran from 2007-2012. It’s ridiculously comprehensive, covers all the highs and lows of Rome, and runs hundreds of episodes. You can listen to it all on the site or through whatever mechanism you have for such things. I assume we all listen to podcasts because, well, free education. And they’re great for writing research because you can listen to them while you’re cooking, cleaning, driving, taking a shower… whatever, which is difficult to do while reading or searching the interwebz.

I’d recommend some Roman wine, but they had a habit of making it in lead-y pots, so don’t do that. But if you want to use modern wine to create a Roman-style drink, that’s what I’d do! The easiest to do is something called mulsum, which can be approximated by adding 1/2 light honey (warmed up) to a bottle of dry-ish white wine (like medium dry). Make sure the honey is all mixed in and then chill the wine before serving. Or you could just buy mead, I guess, but that’s honey wine not honeyed wine, so it’s not the same thing. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could make Roman cheesecakes or sausages, recipes for which are all over the net. If you’re into bayberry and pine nuts, Roman cuisine is FOR YOU. And don’t be scared off by garum; you don’t actually have to ferment old fish bits (you’d layer aromatic herbs with oily fish like anchovies and salt then let it sit for three weeks, or so). Just buy fish sauce from the Asian section of your local grocery store. It’s pretty much the same thing.

We’ll be back next week with a PROPER Boozy Books. You know, with an actual book. But I wanted to make sure y’all knew you could count on us in this brave new world of less-regular posting.

C

The Muse: Writing is Healing

Hello, and welcome to the newly rebranded Muse. Hopefully, you tuned in to C’s last update, because things, they are a-changin’. Essentially, responsibilities, adulthood, and the pursuit of free time have put an end to our rigid posting schedule and we’ll be focusing on delivering high-quality content on more of a monthly timeline.

So, yes, the Muse will no longer appear strictly on Mondays, but I think this will result in more inspired posts as opposed to the “oh-shit-it’s-Monday-what-can-I-write-about” pieces of the past.

With that in mind, I present to you, Cacti community, my first new Muse.

It’s Tuesday. Two days ago, my family made the difficult decision to say goodbye to our beloved dog, Fritz. He was almost 14 and debilitating arthritis was getting the better of him. The vet said he was suffering. He said it was time.

This weekend easily ranks as one of the worst in my life. Fritz was a sweet, loyal, neurotic wookie-like bear and it pains me that I couldn’t say goodbye in person. I spoke with him via a video chat with my dad the evening before, wishing I could reach out and scratch his ears. He was pretty alert, though he couldn’t do more than lie there. He knew it was me and listened to my words: the hollow “good boys” and choked up “the pain will all go aways.”

I made my parents promise to stay with him until the end. They kept their word, braving those final moments and making sure Fritz was surrounded by people he loved.

This was of significant importance to me, because one of my greatest regrets is that I wasn’t there when our cat was put to sleep. Granted, I was in high school at the time, but I was a snivelling coward and I left a scared animal that I cared deeply for to face the unknown without a loving friend nearby.

It doesn’t make things any easier and it certainly doesn’t make up for my past mistakes, but knowing that Fritz was accompanied by family and that he went peacefully provides a kind of closure I never got the last time I lost a pet. Fritz knew he was loved and cherished. That’s all anyone could want in their final moments.

Now, obviously, this hasn’t exactly been a Muse, but I feel that writing and sharing my grief is an important part of the healing process. Putting my thoughts down and taking a moment to reflect is my next step forward. Keeping my thoughts locked in while crying in the fetal position probably isn’t healthy after a certain point. So, let the healing begin.

A

The Muse: Actually on a Monday!

HELLO, Cactus-landia! And welcome back to Nerd Cactus HQ, where we had a bit of a hiatus. Adulthood got in the way of things, and we hadn’t seen each other at all in over six months (probably more) when we finally managed to catch up with one another last week. Aside from discussing Infinity War ad nauseum, becoming nauseated by the state of the nation, and then getting delicious ice-cream, we also discussed how we’re going to move forward with our venture.

I mean, we were hardly going to shut down, right? No way. But the fact of the matter is, we’re not really able to continue doing things the way we did before when we could basically get together once a month and figure everything out. It’s just not possible. And, unfortunately, it is also not going to be possible to continue doing things the way we did when we first started. Which means there’ll be some changes in the way the blog is run from now on.

Basically, the scheduling that was so good for us before is now no longer good. We’re not able to read a book every two weeks and we’ve basically gone through the backlog of books we want to pair, so we have to move forward. This means that Boozy Books will no longer be a weekly feature, but will only appear when we finish a book worth pairing. I’d venture to say once a month is probably a good guess, but I promise that, since it’s becoming a monthly feature instead of a weekly one, it’ll be an actual feature. Our weekend posts on Shakespeare and silliness will also be on a “I found something interesting” basis, but that’s basically what they’d become already, so that’s nothing new.

The Muse will continue to be a weekly thing. But it could appear any time during the week (the others will remain Friday and weekend posts), mostly because the muse might strike at any time. We’ll try to keep it on Monday by writing things ahead of time and scheduling them like grown-ups, but… let’s face it, we barely qualify as grown-ups as it is. The whole adulting thing is what’s caused this mess in the first place. Damn adulting.

The fact of the matter is… life sometimes forces you to put your creative endeavors on a schedule. You’d like to write whenever you want to or whenever the muse strikes, but you can’t always do that. There’s bills to pay and animals (or kids) to care for. Families to see. Nations to save (on that note: please be sure to vote in any upcoming elections. The only way to prevent the death of democracy is to exercise our most fundamental right). You know… life. And though it may betray that wannabe bohemian artist pouring their soul over the page as they die from consumption up in the frozen garret of your creative mind, sometimes you need to be left-brained about all those right-brained activities.

So, we’re scheduling writing time. We’re getting all disciplined and shit. And while it might suck (especially since we’re still in the querying phase for Merc, and it’s literally soul-sucking), it’ll be the way we get to move forward as a partnership when life seems so determined to get in the way. So… here’s to growing up!

Sorry, Peter.

C

Silly Sunday: It Is Sunday, Right?

Hello fellow nerds and cacti! So, I think everyone’s noticed that our regular posts have become a little irregular, but we want you to know that we’re here and we haven’t forgotten you!

C’s explanation was right on target: we’re in a transition. Personally, I’m going through 3 or 4 life transitions as I get in the habit of working regularly, keeping a reasonably clean house, caring for a dog-child, and balancing my personal creative pursuits.

Thankfully, the living room is more or less complete, so that’s one less thing. Of course, we still plan to buy a NEW couch, but that probably won’t be until next year. I mean, you can’t even get a decent chair for $5,000, so what’s a couch going to cost???

Anyway, seeing as C and I both had the impulse to get in touch with our readers on this subject, it looks like our “bestie brain” is still active. And that gives me all the confidence I need to know we’ll find ways to pursue all of our projects.

-A